Thursday, July 13, 2006

When Market Research Isn’t

A couple of days ago, a “market study” (and I use those words very loosely) was released by a company called Kelton Research. This study, sponsored by the WiFi Alliance, purports to indicate that WiFi is more desirable than either home phones or iPods. The study surveyed 551 people who said that they “…had experience with wireless computer technology in their home or home office.” One of the most interesting findings of the study was that “When asked how long it took to set up current wireless computer networks at home, the average length of time was just 1 hour 8 minutes.” My experience with WiFi has been almost the opposite, and I’m probably one of the more experienced people I know. Setting up a WiFi network usually takes hours, if not days, and woe be it to those who are setting up more complex networks with features such as virtual private networks (VPNs.) Since the average respondent in the study works from home 2 to 3 times a week, many of them must have complex networks.

News.com reported the story, and gently took issue with the study’s conclusions, given that the survey sample was taken from people who had already mastered the intricacies of setting up WiFi networks. Craig Mathias, an industry analyst who, according to News.com, covers the wireless communications industry, said that he thought that the study was skewed, but wasn’t inaccurate: "’The results are clearly skewed by the demographic,’ he said, adding that it doesn't indicate a real inaccuracy.”

Not inaccurate? Well, let’s visit the website of Kelton Research. Here, you’ll find a section of the site titled “Polling for PR.” You can read all the text on their site, but one quote puts everything into perspective: “… Kelton's team will help craft your questions, always with an eye towards attracting press attention to your campaign. Then, we'll complete a Kelton NewsWorthy Analysis, providing you with those findings which will be most interesting to your target media.” In other words, the entire survey was tailored not for accuracy or insights, but for attracting the interest of editors and reporters who'd give the WiFi Alliance free publicity. It makes a joke out of the words “market research.” In fact, it’s promotion disguised as research, and frankly, it’s disgusting.

Here’s a wager: When Kelton Research or Edelman, the WiFi Alliance’s PR firm, stumbles on this blog entry, they’ll count it as a PR win, because it includes the client’s name and some of the findings of the study. They probably won’t even bother to read the blog entry until it ends up in their client’s electronic clipping pile of press coverage that mentions their name. But folks, what people say about you does matter, and they don’t even have to spell your name right. So if you’re reading this in your clipping pile, congratulations. You have zero credibility.

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